Bill Parcells once told Peter King that he spends 50% of his time worrying about the bottom five guys on the roster. So too Jeff Fisher, who on the eve of the regular season has just cut the man slated to start Game 1 at left guard, and one of his quarterback’s comfortable targets in TE Michael Hoomanawanui, in order to sign a pair of higher-potential unknowns for his offensive line.
It is still early in the get-to-know-you process for Rams fans and their new coach, but we’re learning a few things about him already:
Fisher cares about talent over continuity. “Continuity” is one of football’s sacred cows, particularly on the offensive line. Any disruption in continuity appears to us outside observers as a sign of imminent disaster, as obvious and terrifying as a solar eclipse to a medieval farm boy.
Continuity also has a pernicious internal gravity that allows coaches to keep guys in their jobs long after their sell-by date. Even for an interim starter like Quinn Ojinnaka, holding his place in line for a physically gifted but raw rookie like Rokevious Watkins, the general coaching tendency is to keep the guy in place until the youngster has definitively won the job. The promotion can then be handled with all formal pomp and ceremony necessary to ensure the team and its fans that Continuity has indeed been preserved.
Ojinnaka was released in the middle of an informal team barbecue. Hey kid, wipe your hands and come over here, you’re one step closer to a starting job.
Fisher cares about talent over scheme fit. Not to say that Fisher is going to bring in obviously odd parts, but unlike the Spagnuolo world, we don’t have guys clinging to the bottom of the roster for years on end based on their ability to do one thing well. (But then again, we do still have Craig Dahl on this team, so take this with a grain of salt.)
Mike Hoomanawanui appeared to be a perfect scheme fit for Brian Schottenheimer, a block-first tight end who can release and rumble upfield, carrying a soft pair of hands with him to be a safety valve in the passing game. And while Big Mike didn’t have an astounding camp, he was as comfortable as an old shoe for Sam Bradford. However, the coaching staff found other players in Matthew Mulligan (blocking) and Mike McNeill (hands), and Bradford to his credit immediately made himself comfortable with them as well.
Hoomanawanui’s injury history – particularly his concussion history – puts a big damper on his upside, particularly when taking crushing hits over the middle is a natural part of the job description. Being able to fit the scheme for just a few games out of the year isn’t that appealing to any coach.
Fisher cares about talent, period. This is a full-on rebuild, and the Rams have been refocused on a mission that has been largely neglected, if we’re being honest, since 1998. That mission: restocking the shelves with as much talent as you can find. They know, as we know, that this team is far from being “one player away” from anywhere.
Fisher isn’t willing to concede wins, but neither is he willing to get trapped by bad roster habits spawned from the “win-now” mentality. Get younger, get faster, get stronger, period. Get fresh wood and lean heavily on a well-salted coaching staff to carve it into the likeness of a winning football player. Get enough of them, and you’ve got a winning football program.
At least, that’s what I think I know, after watching his team for just a few weeks.